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UCLA guard Isaac Hamilton continues to shake off the rust

 UCLA guard Isaac Hamilton continues to shake off the rust
UCLA guard Isaac Hamilton, right, drives to the basket in front of Oklahoma's Ryan Spangler during the Bruins' 75-65 loss on Nov. 26. (Tim Aylen / Associated Press)

The plan was to have Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton split the point guard duties for the UCLA basketball team.

And through four games the Bruins were cruising, undefeated and ranked No. 22 in the Associated Press media poll.

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Then came paradise, and a bitter dose of reality.

UCLA's three games in the Bahamas at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament — losses to Oklahoma and North Carolina and a win over Alabama Birmingham — exposed its need for a ballhandling option beyond Alford.

"Isaac will be that," Coach Steve Alford said. However, the former Bellflower St. John Bosco High star isn't the answer right now.

After sitting out last season in the wake of his transfer from Texas El Paso, Hamilton is searching for consistency. He has been terrific some games, but he has also struggled when pressed by better, more athletic teams.

UCLA will be trying to regroup when it plays Cal State Fullerton (3-4) at Pauley Pavilion on Wednesday night, and then hosts San Diego on Sunday. But six days after that comes No. 9 Gonzaga, and then a week later, a game in Chicago against top-ranked Kentucky.

"Isaac is more than capable of doing it," Alford said. "But that takes time."

The season away, Hamilton's coaches and teammates say, left Hamilton rusty. When this season started, he hadn't played in a game that really counted in nearly 18 months.

Hamilton has averaged 11.6 points and about two assists per game, but against North Carolina's pressure defense, he looked lost. He committed seven turnovers and made none of his six shots.

Hamilton still shows promise, though. One UCLA coach said there are practices where he is the most talented player on the court. The night after his seven-turnover nightmare, he scored 21 points on 13 shots against Alabama Birmingham.

Bryce Alford has played most of the point guard minutes. He averages 17.6 points per game and has 50 assists and 17 turnovers. Alford also leads the team in field-goal attempts (87) and minutes (34.1 per game).

"It's taxing," Alford said. "It's taxing on your body."

Ideally, the Bruins would like to let Alford play off the ball more often, which would allow him to run off screens to set up open shots.

In UCLA's next couple of games, Steve Alford said he expects to use Norman Powell and 6-foot-9 Kevon Looney to give Bryce Alford a rest.

Powell said he has played point guard occasionally in practice, and the role is "more to relieve pressure for Isaac and Bryce when they're tired or they're being pressured full court."

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In high school, Looney, UCLA's leading rebounder, played point guard for one season. At UCLA, he has the green light to push the ball up the floor.

Mostly, though, he has played inside. His ballhandling has been limited to drives in isolation.

The Bruins thought they would have another option at point guard that would have allowed Bryce Alford short breaks and permitted Hamilton to play more shooting guard. But Jon Octeus, who left Colorado State, was denied admission and could not enroll at UCLA. He is at Purdue.

That means there are few choices for extended runs at point guard other than Alford and Hamilton.

"It's tough," Bryce Alford said of Hamilton's adjustment period. "You've got to get in the swing of things. And just confidence, reminding him he's a McDonald's All-American, he's a big-time player."

UCLA WEDNESDAY

vs. Cal State Fullerton

When: 9 p.m.

Where: Pauley Pavilion.

On the air: TV: Pac-12 Networks; Radio: 570.

Records: UCLA 5-2, Cal State Fullerton 3-4.

Update: After three games in three days in the Bahamas, the Bruins have had some time off before their matchup with the Titans. UCLA had owned this all-time matchup, winning the first nine games. But the Titans stunned the Bruins with a 68-65 double-overtime win in their most recent meeting, UCLA's season opener in 2009.

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